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Auto blogTue, 31 Dec 2013 09:45:00 EST
Brazil: the country of carnivals, indescribable beauty adjacent to abject poverty, Ayrton Senna and old Volkswagen models. Only they're not old - they're new, they're just based on old designs. The original Beetle continued production there long after it had been phased out elsewhere, but the original Kombi van has lasted much longer. That ends today, however, with the iconic VW Microbus ambling out of production on the last day of 2013.
VW kept making the van in Brazil with the original air-cooled 1.2-liter boxer four until 2005, after which the original design was updated with a 1.4-liter water-cooled engine. Today, however, it ultimately falls prey to safety regulations that mandate that all vehicles - no matter how old their design - need to have airbags and ABS, forcing Volkswagen do Brasil to cease production of the Microbus after a 56-year production run. But the latest word is that the Kombi (as it's presently known) could get a stay of execution - or at least a resurrection in short order.
According to reports, the Brazilian government is looking into granting the Type 2 Microbus an exemption from said safety regulations, reasoning that the van was designed long before the advent of airbags and ABS. If the measure goes through, the Kombi Last Edition (pictured above) could prove not to be the last at all. So what do you think, should the Microbus get an exemption from Brazilian safety regulations for nostalgia's sake? Vote in our poll below, then have your say in Comments.
The Volkswagen brand sold 407,704 cars last year, a 6.95-percent decline compared to 2012, and it's down a further 8.36 percent through the end of April 2014 compared to this time last year. In order to to put the sales football between its Strategy 2018 goal posts, the brand would need to add 100,000 more sales every year to achieve the lofty 800,000-unit target. Coming to grips with how unreasonable that is, VW US CEO Michael Horn has said, "For now, we have to have realistic targets."
The reasons for the brand's slow-down are imprecise, but lots of folks are throwing lots of reasons around. Last November, VW Group Chairman Ferdinand Piech told Bloomberg, "We understand Europe, we understand China and we understand Brazil, [but] we only understand the US to a certain degree so far." Analysts say the brand hasn't had midsize and compact SUV offerings, especially an overdue retail version of the CrossBlue, and the ones it does have are priced too high for their segments. It "didn't introduce enough new engines, or alternative technologies or model variants" for the Passat and Jetta. It devoted so many resources to China that the US market suffered. It was being outspent two-to-one on advertising by competitors. Its J.D. Power dependability ratings aren't high enough to overcome its past. It "has never really taken the US customer seriously." And so on.
There's still no official admission of defeat concerning the target, but reading between the lines there are some VW execs that appear to accept it won't happen short of some deus ex machina. Still,
The fight for unionization at Volkswagen's Chattanooga, TN, factory isn't letting up. Yesterday, the National Labor Relations Board decided to allow anti-United Auto Workers employees at the plant the right to defend voting down the measure. Now, a group called the National Right to Work Foundation has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of five workers against VW and the UAW for allegedly working together to organize.
The group says in a release that it wants "to block further collusion between the company and the United Auto Workers." It alleges that VW forced workers to attend "mandatory pro-union meetings" and prevented managers from opposing. In a rebuttal on its website, the UAW called the claims "baseless" and said its actions were entirely legal.
One possible problem faces the carmaker in regards to the lawsuit. According to the Detroit Free Press, a recent US Court of Appeals ruling found that neutrality agreements like the one the business had with the UAW could be illegal if the company provided "things of value" to the union. The newspaper also claims that VW held a mandatory employee meeting concerning the election, but workers were free to leave during the UAW's presentation.